Five to ten years ago, you didn’t have much of a choice in terms of storage for your new computer. Your only option was to use a mechanical hard drive.
However, nowadays, you have another option for storage: a Solid State Drive.
A Solid State Drive (more commonly referred to as an SSD) serves the exact same purpose as a traditional mechanical hard drive, it just uses different technology to do its job a whole lot better.
While SSDs are more expensive per GB than mechanical hard drives, their incredible boost in performance definitely makes having one worth it.
In this article I’ll look at what an SSD is, how they stack up against traditional hard drives, and how to choose the right one.
What is a Solid State Drive?
A Solid State Drive is a data storage device that uses integrated circuits to store persistent data. Naturally, an SSD can be thought of as a sophisticated and oversized version of a USB memory stick. It has no moving parts and information fed into it is stored in microchips.
Typically, an SSD uses a non-volatile NAND-based memory. As a result, the disk does not “forget” the information stored on it even when turned off. This is one of the most essential characteristics of permanent memory.
Data in an SSD is stored in form of blocks. As a result, its processes seem to be more efficient and direct unlike those in the HDD.
An SSD relies on an embedded processor to read and write data since it does not have a mechanical arm.
The embedded processor also commonly referred to as the controller and is capable of performing several operations related to data reading and writing. It is responsible for making decisions related to how data is stored, retrieved, cached and cleaned up.
It also performs other important tasks such as error correction, garbage collection and encryption among others.
The controller is useful in determining the operating speed of the SSD. The difference between an excellent and a good SSD can be determined by the controller technology.
An SSD has a little bit smaller form factor than a regular hard drive. For desktops, SSDs are typically 2.5″ drives, while mechanical hard drives typically come in 3.5″ drives. The connector used for these sizes is often SATA. However, mini-SATA connectors that can fit effectively well into the mini-PCI slot are used for Smaller SSDs.
SSDs vs. Hard Drives
SSDs and HDDs are responsible for handling the same job. They boot your computer system and store applications and personal files. However, they have unique set of features that make them different.
Here is a breakdown of their differences:
- Battery Life/Power Draw: SSDs draw less power in comparison to a traditional hard drive. The average rate of power consumption for an SSD is between 2 to 3 watts while that of an HDD is between 6 to 7 watts.
- Cost: SSDs are relatively expensive and currently cost, on average, $0.50 for each gigabyte based on a 1TB drive. On the other hand, HDDs will remain less expensive since they are older and employ a more established technology. Typically, they cost approximately $0.15 per gigabyte based on a 4TB model.
- Capacity: Currently, the biggest SSD on the market is 2TB, while the biggest hard drive on the market is 8TB (Seagate has just started shipping them).
- OS Boot Time and Speed: The SSD shines over the HDD in speed. The average boot up time for SSD is 22 seconds while that of HDD is 40 seconds. Even after booting, an HDD needs time to speed up to the operating specifications and slows down during normal operations. PCs with an SSD launch apps faster and have a higher overall performance.
- Noise and Vibration: An SSD does not have moving parts as does an HDD. As a result, there is no sound or vibration when the PC is processing data. Audible clicks, spinning and vibrations are a common scenario in PC’s with an HDD. Faster HDD’s make more noise due to the vigorous back and forth movement of the read arm.
- Durability: An SSD is likely to store data safely even in the toughest conditions since it has no moving parts. Read/write heads in an HDD have limits and could easily fail jeopardizing data stored on it. An SSD is a suitable option for those who are rough on their PC’s.
What to Look for When Choosing an SSD
There are quite a few different SSD brands currently on the market and choosing the right one is not always clear cut. If you’re not sure what to look for, you may either overpay, or choose an unreliable drive that has bad reviews.
Below is a highlight of qualities you should look for in an SSD:
- Cost: If you have any kind of budget, cost is obviously going to be the biggest determining factor in which SSD you choose. In most cases, for people with moderate to high budgets, your best bet may be to get a 128GB – 256GB SSD and pair it with a cheaper 1TB mechanical hard drive.
- Real-World Speeds: The normal speed of an SSD is expected to be slightly lower than the maximum speeds provided by the manufacturers. The best way to determine SSD speed is by checking benchmarks from reputable review sites.
- Maximum Speeds: A good rule of thumb is too look at drives with maximum read speeds of up to ~550 MB/s and maximum write speeds of up to 500 MB/s. While 550 MB/s read speeds are fairly common among SSDs, write speeds tend to vary. However, even if you can find write speeds as low as 300 MB/s you’re going to see a huge performance increase over mechanical hard drives.
- NAND Flash Memory: There are two types of SSD memory: single-level and multi-level cell. Multi-level cells are capable of storing more information on each cell and are preferred to single-level cells. However, an MLC should be installed together with an error-correcting code to cater for the high rate of errors likely to occur.
- Error Correcting Code Memory: It enables the SSD detect and correct any possible forms of data corruption that might result in unusable data. ECC makes an SSD to be more reliable.
- SATA III Capabilities: Your SSD should have the latest Serial ATA (SATA) interface to avoid limiting its performance. SATA III can transfer data at 6 Gbps unlike SATA I that can only transfers at 1.5 Gbps. Compatibility with SATA III ensures your SSD has enough bandwidth to transfer data and that you don’t bottleneck your SSD.
- Company Reputability: Consider choosing an SSD from a company with a good history. Right now, Samsung, Crucial, Adata, and SanDisk are some of the more popular names in the SSD world.
If You Don’t Have an SSD, You Might Want to Get One… NOW!
For those of you who have not experienced the performance increase that comes with using an SSD, you may want to consider adding one to your next build, or upgrading your current system to include one.
An SSD will completely change your system’s performance and you will likely never go back to an HDD-only machine.
And, because of the fact that SSD prices have continually declined over the past few years, they are now more affordable than ever. So, if you’re looking for an easy performance boost to you current system or the new system you plan on building, then consider a Solid State Drive.